The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) may change its long-held policy of prohibiting homosexuals from serving as Scout leaders.
On Monday, the Scouts released a statement that said, “Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” The national board of the Boy Scouts will make a decision on this policy at a meeting in Dallas next week.
If the board changes the policy, the decision will be a defining moment for an organization that has become a part of American culture. The Scouts currently have 2.9 million members, including leaders. By some estimates, more than 100 million American men and boys have participated in the Scouting movement since its founding in 1910. Scouting’s highest rank, the Eagle, has become a widely recognized mark of achievement for young men. In 2011, about 51,000 boys attained Eagle rank. More than 2 million have earned the badge in the 100-year history of Scouting. Famous Eagle Scouts include President Gerald Ford, Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rep. Chris Smith, Sen. Pat Toomey, entrepreneur and billionaire Ross Perot, Mike Rowe (host of TV’s Dirty Jobs), and department store magnate Sam Walton.
The Boy Scouts also provided tens of millions of boys and men their first experiences with leadership and democratic processes. Scouts elect their own leaders, and patrols and troops plan cookouts and hikes and camping trips as a group. Every Scout must perform service projects, and Eagle Scouts must perform a 100-hour service project as a requirement for Scouting’s highest rank. Eagle projects totaled more than 9 million hours last year alone. That’s the equivalent of 4,500 people working full-time for a year.
The BSA celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. It has long excluded both homosexuals and atheists because the Scout Oath requires both “duty to God” and that a Scout keep himself “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The BSA’s position has made it a target of both atheist and pro-homosexual groups. In recent years, pro-homosexual groups have also brought pressure on corporations that support the Boy Scouts with matching gift programs and other financial support. In recent months, UPS, Intel, and Merck announced they would no longer support the organization.